When Christine Ryan’s ear was aching one recent afternoon, she didn’t head to the doctor’s office or emergency room; she went to her local CVS store in Cambridge.
Within 20 minutes, Ryan had been diagnosed with an ear infection and was picking up medicine and heading back to work. “This was the quickest visit I’ve ever had in my life,” the 24-year-old human resources professional said.
Consumers like Ryan increasingly are looking for faster and more convenient options to get basic medical care, and retailers like CVS are filling the gap with walk-in clinics and other services. That’s forcing traditional health care providers, from small doctors offices to big hospitals, to react.
At Atrius Health, a large medical group, more doctors are leaving their doors open until 8 p.m. Tufts Medical Center is taking online appointments for its emergency room. Several hospital networks are building walk-in clinics for urgent care. Doctors have started seeing patients through video chats. And apps are being built that will let consumers make appointments and view medical information from their phones, the way consumers already access so many other services.
“This represents a huge paradigm shift in health care,” said Normand E. Deschene, chief executive of Wellforce, the parent company of Tufts Medical Center and Lowell General Hospital. “The systems that are going to succeed are those that are going to embrace it because this is what the consumers want. Most industries follow what their consumers want. Health care should be no different.”